healyg: (Frown)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Claudia Doppioslash's The Man Who Killed Time.

The Man Who Killed Time is a mostly linear story about a time-travel mystery involving a man who may have irrevocably screwed up time. Unfortunately, the game is severely held back by extremely poor writing. It's peppered with practically made out of bad, awkward phrases, some of which actively work against comprehension. (There are also a couple spelling and grammar errors, but the poor phrasing is the bigger problem.) It's kind of a shame, since the story hits a couple grace notes here and there, but the writing is too confusing for me to really enjoy any of it. I would strongly suggest that the writer get their next game checked out by a native English speaker before releasing it.

Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (apology)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Jack Whitham's Final Exam.

Final Exam is a heavily puzzle-based game about an exam for a futuristic administrative position that goes wrong thanks to some kind of cyber-attack. We're not given too many details about either the attack or the setting itself; there's some hints that much of the world may be experienced in VR simulations, but nothing too concrete.

Anyway, after a handhold-y introduction, you have to save your organization through some technical wizardry involving cables and robots and junk. I had to work from a walkthrough almost the entire game, so I'm not too sure about how fair or good the puzzles are; most of them are fiddly manipulate-the-machine type puzzles, and there's a lot of mapping to do since the rooms are really spread out. For what it's worth, though, I did end up liking the game, despite a few minor problems here and there (like the inconsistant handling of identically named objects).

Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (Freaked-out Fujiko)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Cat Manning's Crossroads.

Crossroads is a short, heavily branching urban horror story about an encounter with a menacing witch. They say it's death to meet with her, but I didn't encounter any death endings per se across the several times I've played through it. What you're looking for with her changes depending on your choices in the story, but most of them seem to deal with seeking forgiveness or catharsis or something along those lines. The writing was good at building up a menacing atmosphere, and there are a couple interesting tricks with the interface in several episodes.

Crossroads is, I think, a game that improves considerably upon replay, because a lot of the different storylines inform each other, building up a view of the protagonist that, while not necessarily narratively consistent, is... at least some other kind of consistent. I remember some guy on the internet who said that, while there is little to no narrative continuity between episodes of the old Twilight Zone series, there was a moral or emotional continuity that connected disparate episodes together. (This may be why it's so easy to parody.) I think that the same thing is going on with the branches of the story in Crossroads, as well. It's pretty interesting to think about.

Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (apology)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Arthur DiBianca's Grandma Bethlinda's Variety Box.

Grandma's Bethlinda's Variety Box is a fairly short puzzle game, with little-to-no plot to speak of. Most of the focus in the game is on the goofy interactions between the various gadgets and gizmos on the titular box. I had a lot of trouble solving this one, but that may just be because I am kind of dumb when it comes to puzzles. All of the interactions are very pared down (the most common verb is likely USE, or as the game cheekily calls it, UNDERTAKE TO INTERACT WITH, abv. U), so it might be a good game to give to a parser-IF newbie. There were a couple bits I found overly fiddly (like the display), but otherwise it was pretty fun.

Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (aww)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Phantom Williams's Summit.

Summit is an interactive travelogue through many strange and metaphorical landscapes. The obvious comparison here is to Porpentine's games (although the vignettes here are more developed and melancholic), although parts of it also reminded me of Alan DeNiro's Solarium in the 2013 Comp, and also Ghost Highland Way, the Scots ghost walking-sim from last year.

The setting is ambiguously post-apocalyptic; there are references here and there to a previous, more glorious civilization, although these are kept rather vague. The world Summit takes place on might not even be Earth (but I'm prepared to admit I might have missed a reference or two). The focus of the game is the titular summit, which is the object of the player character's desire; it's said that those who reach the top can achieve immortality. The Summit may represent heaven or enlightenment, and the protagonist's journey could be wise or folly, depending on your interpretation of events.

I don't think understood everything there was to about the game, and I might need to replay, at least to see some alternate paths. But here's my hot take on Summit: I really liked it! I found it a bit draggy near the end, but I loved all the dream/nightmare details, and the music really helped to set the mood. If you haven't already, you should take the chance to play it, as it's one of the strongest entries I've seen in the Comp so far.

Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (apology)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Cha Holland's Growbotics. (I refuse to type it in all-caps on principle.)

Growbotics is, essentially, a toy-game parody with a bit of plot mixed in. In it you're the recipient of the latest new thing in creation technology, Growbotics! The basic gameplay is combining essences, like Vision or Sensation, to take just two examples, into either more complicated essences or a new shiny object, depending on the game mode. It's very satisfying to combine stuff to get more stuff (special thanks to the sound design here), although it's frustrating when you keep getting the buzzer again and again.

The game design of Growbotics is fun and all, but unfortunately it seems to be trying to say something and I can't see what. There's an obvious parody of over-promising art apps, creation technology, and the like (the game is really good at making fun of the overblown writing style these products tend to use), but it doesn't get much further than point-and-laugh-at-the-thing, satire-wise. There's potential in the purely cosmetic choices of the beginning, and I like how the manual, which makes it easier for you to create things, also prunes some of your possibilities away, but the game seems divided by what exactly it wants to say. Both the "winning" and "losing" endings are tongue-in-cheek portrayals of opposite (and undesirable?) extremes, but the game never achieves synthesis between them. Maybe it would have helped if the game took itself a bit more seriously, or maybe art and creation is just a tricky subject for any artist to tackle.

Conclusion: Click for the verdict )
healyg: (aww)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Moe Zilla's Forever Meow.

Forever Meow is about a cat who, while exploring his home, manages to save the day. (I'm trying not to give away anything important here.) There are a few light puzzles, but nothing too strenuous; the emphasis here is on the atmosphere and kitty antics, not the brainteasers.

The backstory and setting of the game have a certain poignancy, and while some might think the ending is too schmaltzy, I thought it was very fitting; after all, it's a game about a cat who just wants to be fed and loved, so going light isn't a bad choice. I found one errant bug, but nothing serious enough to bring down the experience. Probably not going to be my favorite game of this Comp, when all is said and done, but it's my favorite so far.

Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (apology)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Wes Lesley's The King and the Crown.

The King and the Crown is a light puzzly story about a king searching for his lost scepter and crown. Though I initially struggled with this, finding them turns out to be pretty trivial, and the meat of the game is in discovering all the secret endings. Unfortunately (for me, anyway), most of the mechanics involved are deliberately obscured, which for me means it's a stab in the dark to get all of them. I checked the walkthrough to see how to get them, then figured that was enough for me.

Hmm, still need to talk for another paragraph... I did think the new parser errors were a nice touch, and the one secret ending I did manage to get (involving some daydreaming) I liked a lot better than the regular one.

Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (Freaked-out Fujiko)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's piato's Duel.

Duel is a short dark fantasy story about a creepy magical fight. Though the beginning is a bit confusing, gradually you learn that this is a world where memories of important things, people, and events can be weaponized through magic, and naturally most of those memories are bad. Like, really, horrifyingly bad. Duel isn't quite a horror story, because the focus is centered squarely on the magician's duel, but it certainly isn't something you'd recommend to a friend with a lot of squicks.

The gameplay itself is actually quite simple: you and your opponent take turns casting memory spells; because all your opponent's spells have a set order, solving Duel is bit like solving a grow-game puzzle, where the right action (or inaction) at the right moment is the key to victory. I checked the walkthrough to win, but managed to bring the fight to a stalemate on my own. (As an aside: I found the final action in the winning ending to be rather obscure about just what was going on. I think one memory killed the other, or maybe merged with her? Anyway, I suppose it's not really important in the grand scheme of things.)

Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (Freaked-out Fujiko)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up next, it's Michael Thomet's A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood.

A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood is a Medieval period piece about a vagabond of obscure gender who meets a mysterious figure and suffers an eerie fate after being told their fortune. At first it seems to be leading up to some kind of morality play, what with all the ethical choices near the beginning, but it quickly leads into something different.

Because on replay, during the fortune telling (hidden in a hyperlink near the bottom), there's a scene where the figure directly addresses you, the player, and asks you why you thought your choices this time around would make things turn out differently. It's a neat little bit that encourages you to replay to see what, if anything, could be done to avoid the vagabond's fate (and it explains why the story is in third-person, which I had been wondering about until then), but unfortunately I think it's pretty clear to the player that there's no way out of this before the game admits, yeah, there's no way out of this. And the final point of the game, as revealed in its new subtitle, felt a bit facile to me; haven't we seen this message a hundred times before? But I think the game manages to rise above these faults.

Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (Angry Dorito)
Hello, all and sundry! For the next couple weeks I'm going to be reviewing a game from this year's IF Comp every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Up first, it's Alex Butterfield's 5 Minutes to Burn Something!

5 Minutes to Burn Something! is pretty much your typical My Shitty Apartment game. Basically, you burned some toast, which set off your fire alarm, which automatically called the fire department, and the fire department doesn't look kindly on frivolous calls, so you need to actually burn something in the five minutes it takes for them to get here. (I'm thinking, wouldn't the fire department be more sympathetic about the smoke detector giving a false alarm like that? It's not like there's anything you could do to stop it, besides eating fruit that morning.)

In the early-going, it's not that bad, although it certainly isn't great; I found the start too overwhelming without hints, and the writing is more eager to be funny than it is actually funny. But then the puzzles, which I was expecting to pick up once you've gotten the run of the apartment, never got any easier, or better. And the mid-game implementation, when you start building the fire, is frustratingly bad. For example, there's an object under a (trying to avoid specific spoilers here) foo that, if you try to look for it by typing LOOK UNDER FOO, you get the standard Inform response "You find nothing of interest." Only with GET FOO can you find the thing.

In the late game you end up framing some guy, which, while stated to be a jerk, didn't seem to deserve being framed for arson. And the ending itself was just so treacly that it seemed to have wandered in from another game, one in which you didn't try to set your house on fire and frame someone else for it. I dunno, maybe there was some irony I'm not picking up on, but it left a really bad taste in my mouth.

Conclusion: Click for verdict )
healyg: (scheming)
Recently, as part of my anticipation for the official release of the new Lupin III series, I've been watching some scattered episodes of the third series, AKA the "pink jacket" series. Honestly? They're not that bad. A bit on the slow side, compared to the somewhat manic second series, and I've noticed a dip in quality in the second half, but still, not bad.

I even think that if this had been the series to make it to America first, instead of the second, things might have been better for the franchise over here; the animation, while still dated, is yards better than the second series, and the character designs are a little more to American anime fans' tastes. Sure, everything gets a little uglier after episode 25 or thereabouts, but then it's not like Adult Swim ever showed more than 25 episodes of the second series either.
healyg: (Excited)
(Note: I've only watched episodes 1 and 2 of the new series. Just in case you need to know.)

My hot take on the new Lupin III series is that it's pretty good! A rare (or at least uncommon) modern update that keeps the feel of the old while doing something new.

If you want more details than that...

Click here! )

Overall I'd recommend this one, especially if you're already a fan of the characters.
healyg: (Healslime)
In honor of the 150th Anniversary of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I will be recommending one Alice-related thing each Saturday, starting July 4th, continuing on into November, or whenever I get tired of it.

The 1999 TV movie version of Alice in Wonderland (produced by Hallmark) is, strictly speaking, not my favorite version of Alice by a longshot. It's far too treacly in parts, filled with all these insistent references to performing, not losing your nerve, etc., etc. It's a bit like having your favorite album be periodically interrupted by snippets from an inspirational speaker. Too many of the performers are just hamming it up, as well. (Witness Martin Short's turn as the Mad Hatter)

But the special effects are nearly worth the cost of admission by themselves. It was made in a transitional era between CGI and practical effects, so there's lots of puppetry mixed in with the CG. The White Rabbit in particular still looks very good. The sets are all well done as, too (my favorite is the White Rabbit's house, which is a pop-up illustration that comes to life), although some of these are brought down by lighting issues. And some of the singing is quite good.

Overall, should you watch this movie? It's still not very good, but if you enjoy spectacles, and can get it for cheap, I say you should.

Availability: The DVD is on Amazon for about 10-20 bucks, and it's also available on Youtube. I'm not too sure about its streaming status, but you can probably look that up online.
healyg: (apology)
Sorry for the delay, guys. Nothing serious, I just got too distracted to keep up. Anyway, to make up for it, here's two Shufflecomp reviews!

Click to reveal texty goodness )
healyg: (apology)
Let's get back into the swing of things, shall we?

Currently I'm reading A Drifting Life, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, which is a comic autobiography about the early days of the gekiga movement. I'm liking it so far, but I keep mixing people and events up; I think a glossary or a dramatis personae would've helped here.

Also, I played through Molly and the Butter Thieves by Cosmic Hamster from ShuffleComp, and I really liked it! It was a very sweet game that plays around with fairy folklore. Definitely one for the "recommend" pile.
healyg: (Book Reading)
False Mavis
By Litany Brisket
Based on the songs Burning Rope by Genesis and Long Lankin by Steeleye Span.

False Mavis is a horror game implemented in Twine. It takes most of its plot from the ballad performed by Steeleye Span, but there are some allusions to Burning Rope scattered around the game as well. That's as far as I can describe the game without getting into heavy spoilers, so lemme just put the rest of this under a tag.

The game starts out with the player, as the nurse, gradually locking down the house, in what appears at first as an attempt to protect the house from the villainous Long Lankin, but soon it starts to dawn on you that this may have a more sinister motive. This is a good reflection of the Steeleye Span song, I think, where the nurse's role is not clear until a good ways in. Lankin himself is a composite of several versions of the character, including the (possibly apocryphal) theory that he was a sufferer of leprosy.

Although based on the song, False Mavis has a few twists and turns of its own, including a truly horrifying main ending, which stayed in my mind for the rest of the day. Be aware of that fact, especially if you're squicked by body horror.

Recommended? Yes, but maybe stay away if you dislike horror media.
healyg: (aww)
So, I played Emily Short's new multiplayer IF game Aspel today. Overall, I'd say it was fantastic! There were a couple hitches in the tour I did, but they didn't let down what was an amazing experience.

But first, some background: Aspel was made in a Myst-themed hypertext MUD called Seltani, created by Andrew Plotkin in 2013. In Seltani, there's a main pane with a few paragraphs of description and links; the links may lead to actions, which will be displayed in the chat pane; movement, which brings you to a new place; and examination, which brings up a new pane of description which may have links of its own. It's easier to grasp than I'm likely making it seem. Aspel may have been the result of a discussion about how to make a good multiplayer puzzle game in Seltani (among other things), but Emily may have been working on it before that. (I could see it going either way.) Anyway, today at about 3 PM Eastern she hosted a tour of her world.

At first things were very hectic (there were a lot of us and this game doesn't scale to large groups well), but after splitting us into two groups, one to tour after the other, things settled down, and we began to tackle the game in earnest. You begin Aspel in a hot air balloon with your fellow players, trying to figure out how to get past the first puzzle (being vague to avoid spoilers). Here you and the other players each pick a class out of three, and whatever your class is determines your role in the game. There's a lot to do in the balloon besides that first puzzle, and even though I'm not sure how much of it was necessary, it did a lot to set up the atmosphere.

After getting past the first puzzle, you and the other players must then explore a long-abandoned castle, figuring out what to tell your queen to do with it. This is the real heart of the game, and outside of the overcrowded intro, where we ran into the most problems: things can get pretty confusing here if you split up (one of the bigger clues about the story was, er, eaten by another player before most of us could get there), so if you're playing with friends, you might want to stick together at this part. There's a lot of cool background detail here, some of which you'll miss if you're not working together. After exploring the castle and collecting information, you and the other players come to a vote about the castle's fate, after which... well, I don't want to spoil it for you, so let's just say you'll want to cast your vote early.

The game was a pretty great experience, but if I had to name one flaw, it'd be that some classes feel a little unbalanced in terms of what they can or can't do. I was an engineer, so I could have driven the balloon if I wanted to, but once we reached the castle I felt a little frustrated that most of the juicy bits of information were doled out to one of the other classes, the scholars. And I'm still not clear on what exactly it was that soldiers did. But this really doesn't impact the game much as long as you're not playing with jerks.

Overall, I had a great time, and if you're searching for other players to play this with, Emily Short is holding another tour on Sunday, April 19th 8 PM British/3 PM Eastern/Noon Pacific. (See the Spring Thing page for more details.) Maybe I'll see you there?
healyg: (Healslime)
Currently I'm reading The Golden Age of Folk and Fairy Tales, edited by Jack Zipes. Zipes, in case you didn't know, has translated the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales, edited anthologies of radical and feminist fairy tales, and has written about the fairy tale in history and today, just to name a few of his credentials for this book. It casts a pretty wide net over the folk tale collections of the 1800s to early 20th Century, taking tales from the well-known collections of the Brothers Grimm and Joseph Jacobs, to lesser known collections like Round the Yule: Norwegian Folk and Fairy Tales. The stories are grouped together by theme and ATU classification, with chapters like Facing Fear: ATU 326--The Youth Who Wanted to Know What Fear Is, The Fruitful Sleep: ATU 410--Sleeping Beauty, Evil Stepmothers and Magic Mirrors: ATU 709--Snow White, and Bloodthirsty Husbands and Serial Killers: ATU 955--The Robber Bridegroom, ATU 311--Rescue by Sister Maiden, ATU 312--Maiden Killer; each chapter begins with some analysis by Zipes and a tale from the first two editions of Grimm's folk tales.

If you get well-read enough in fairy tales, you get pretty used to the same motifs and formulas used in fairy tales from around the world; what got me, in reading this collection, is what some tales lacked in terms of the formula. For example, there's a "Snow White" tale in the book that doesn't have the stepmother's revenge (The Vain Queen, from Portuguese Folk Tales), and a "Cinderella" without the teasing from the stepsisters and the being forced to sweep the hearth et al, which makes Cinderella come off as a bit of a jerk (Date, Oh Beautiful Date, from Giuseppe Pitre). And then there's this Rapunzel variant, Parsillette, where the prince goes up to Rapunzel as usual, but the witch/fairy godmother figure catches them running away, and she makes Rapunzel ugly and kills the prince somehow, I think. Later Rapunzel apologizes and the godmother makes her pretty again. I just don't know.

Anyway, it's a very good book, all the stories are entertaining and Zipes has some good insights. I might write a few treats for the tales that were nominated in [livejournal.com profile] once_upon_fic, like "The Robber Bridegroom" or "Vasilisa the Beautiful". We'll see.

Next time, on Currently Reading Wednesdays Somedays: I skipped a comics-related book this week, so I might do that next time. And I'd also like to dig into a book about religion sometime, considering it's Lent and all. Then there's IF, again; Parser Comp games are out, but I'd really like to review them outside of Currently Reading Wednesdays. Who knows?
healyg: (apology)
Sorry I haven't been here in a while! I was trying to write this big ol' post but the whole thing collapsed on me.

Anyways, since this is about three days late, let's go ahead and review three different books!

Book numero uno: How to Torture Your Brain, by Ralph L. Woods, is a compilation of brainteasers, paradoxes, and other weird brain junk. Some of these are going to be a little familiar to most folks, like the infamous question "What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?" and the infinite hotel problem, but others, like selections from Greek philosophers, or a parody of the twisted logic Anti-Stratfordians work themselves into, are fresh, at least to me. Be warned that it's a pretty old book, so that some of the examples it uses are a little UnP.C. these days. Here's its Amazon pages, or you could check and see if it's at your local library.

Second book, same as last look: Alan Moore, Storyteller by Gary Spencer Millidge, is a coffee table book about perhaps the most famous British comic book writer of all. Frankly I find the aggrandizing tone of it all a bit wearying (did you know that Alan Moore wrote the very first serious superhero story? And also the first feminist comic book heroine, and also the first interracial relationship, and and and), but hey! That's what you get with these types of books. I don't know, I'm more of a Grant Morrison fan, so maybe this book just isn't for me.

Book number three, oh my oh me I've got a big collection of most of Lewis Carroll's major works, so I'm trying to make some headway into Sylvie and Bruno. So far it's slow going; the joke-to-sentiment ratio is nearly inverted from his Alice books. Mostly I've just been skipping around, and reading an article here or a short story there. There's this one really great story about photographic plates that can write a whole short story from your mind that's just amazing, and I may transcribe the whole thing over here so I can show it off.

Next time, hopefully on time: Next time I really want to play a text adventure, because the IF Top 50 is having another round again and I don't want to miss out. We'll see how that goes.


healyg: (Default)

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